My apologies, Presiding Officer.
I also wrote to the then Minister of State for Crime Prevention, Lib Dem Jeremy Browne, after some encouraging newspaper comments from him. Unfortunately, since then, he has been removed from office. I am sure that that is just a coincidence.
Of course, like everyone else, I welcome the Home Office decision to discontinue the go home poster campaign and the commitment by the Scottish Parliament to condemn the pilot programme. However, not only was the campaign appalling and insensitive, but its intent was clear: it was to say, “We don’t want you here.” The posters added more fear and distress for those who were already living life on the edge while seeking asylum in the UK.
Robina Qureshi from Positive Action in Housing said it well when she said of the rhetoric:
“As we all should know, ‘Go Home’ is a well-known racist taunt that has been used for decades in this country by fascists and racists against those of us from immigrant communities. That a government agency should decide to take up the same racist and xenophobic refrain while ‘processing’ would-be refugees to this country, is shameful and deeply offensive.”
More than being “shameful and deeply offensive”, it is harmful to the country’s reputation and, more important, to asylum seekers’ wellbeing. I doubt that it ever once crossed the mind of the Home Secretary and her officials what feelings the use of language such as, “Is life here tough for you? We can help you go home,” would stir up for people for whom that is not an option at all—men, women and children who have fled for their lives, been separated from their families or seen their families killed. It is that lack of compassion from Westminster that appals me the most about the campaign.
As well as being condemned by almost the whole chamber and the third sector, the campaign was condemned by The Herald. I think that its editorial of 30 August perfectly captured public feeling on the matter. It said:
“What is particularly offensive about this is that these adverts, which are also being piloted in London’s Hounslow, appear to be directed at asylum seekers who have fled their countries of origin because they were no longer safe there. These are people whose claims are being processed by the UK Government. What point can there be in urging them to return to countries where they could be tortured, imprisoned or killed?”
That ties in with the Home Office statistics that show that Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, China, Syria, Bangladesh and Afghanistan—countries where significant human rights abuses have been and continue to be documented—are among the top 10 countries from which asylum seekers come. Are we really saying that asylum seekers from those countries should be pressured into going back there?
As we know, the majority of asylum seekers in Scotland live in Glasgow, where they form less than 0.5 per cent of the population. If all the asylum seekers in the city were put in Hampden stadium—which is in my constituency, in case I have not mentioned that previously—it would not even be 40 per cent full.
It is clear that the pilot was designed not for Scotland, but for the south of England, where UKIP—as has been mentioned—is a threat to the political status quo.